At a press conference held May 11 at Stony Brook University it was announced that the Simons Foundation along with its sister foundation, Simons Foundation International, was gifting $56.6 million to SBU.
The funds will be used in a science, technology, engineering and mathematics program to be launched in the fall of 2023. The Stony Brook Simons STEM Scholars Program will provide scholarships, housing and stipends to 50 new students each year in the STEM fields.
“We could not be more excited and grateful to enter this new partnership with the Simons Foundation,” said SBU President Maurie McInnis, in a press release. “The Stony Brook Simons STEM Scholars Program will allow young people to reach their potential as they bring new, much-needed diversity of perspective to science and innovation. At any given time, we will have 200 future STEM leaders on our campus, forging their way in the STEM fields and setting the stage for future generations of students to follow in their footsteps.”
Simons Foundation’s new president David Spergel was on hand for the presentation. The $56.6 million gift is the Simons Foundation’s largest gift under his leadership.
“We need scientists and mathematicians who are reflective of our diverse world, and the scientific and educational communities must work together to find, train, and support underrepresented scientists and mathematicians,” Spergel said. “That’s why the foundation is making its largest investment yet in diversity through the Stony Brook Simons STEM Scholars Program. Stony Brook University has shown a real commitment already to access and opportunity. They’re our ideal partners in this.”
In a joint statement, Jim and Marilyn Simons, co-founders and co-chairs of the foundation, said they were “proud to see the foundation taking steps to increase diversity in STEM fields.”
“The support network, tight-knit community, and sense of belonging that students will find in this program will be life-changing,” the couple said. “We’re incredibly proud to be part of a program like this, with positive implications not just for Stony Brook, but for New York State and the broader scientific and mathematical communities.”
Justin Fincher, SBU vice president for advancement, said, “The power of this gift is that it is not dedicated to existing programmatic or budget needs; rather, it will exclusively support hundreds of Stony Brook Simons STEM Scholars students.”
According to SBU, there is a major need for programs such as the Stony Brook Simons STEM Scholars Program to address the lack of diversity in STEM fields. STEM careers have seen a 79% growth in employment in the past 30 years, making STEM one of the fastest growing segments of the U.S. workforce. Yet Black and Hispanic workers only make up 17% of the U.S. STEM workforce, compared to 28% of the total workforce. Only 12% of full-time faculty at PhD-granting institutions are Black or Hispanic, a disparity that also exists in STEM higher education programs.
Underrepresented college and university students are much more likely to switch from a STEM major to another course of study than their peers, according to SBU. 40% of Black STEM students switch their major during undergrad, compared to 29 percent of white STEM students, and Black STEM students are also twice as likely as their white peers to leave college without a degree. Just 7% of all STEM Bachelor’s degrees were awarded to Black students in 2018